Rudy Giuliani, Serial Rumor Monger

Rudy Giuliani, the big scoop went, had decided to challenge Kirsten Gillibrand for her U.S. Senate seat next year and would announce his candidacy “in the next 48 hours.”

120 hours later (and counting), the world is still waiting to hear from Rudy. And as the minutes, hours and days pass, the scoop is feeling more and more like a red herring.

All we know, for now, is that there was a Daily News report (citing a single, unnamed source) last Thursday afternoon that he former mayor was certain to enter the race. Then the story changed, saying only that Rudy was “very likely” to run, and dropping the 48-hour claim.

If Rudy really has made a decision about his political future, everyone else seems to be in the dark. His official spokeswoman hasn’t had anything to say. His allies in the state Republican Party are hopeful that he’ll run, but aren’t yet betting on it. And his close associates seem as confused as anyone—how else to explain the apparent confusion of the Daily News’ Rudy source over the timetable of his supposedly imminent entry into the race?

This is not how candidacies are launched. Had it been part of some grand roll-out strategy, last Thursday’s leak would have been followed by some kind of public statement or appearance by Rudy. Instead, he’s been silent and invisible while the momentum generated by the story has morphed into confusion.

The fact that he hasn’t followed up on the news and the fact that his camp (such as it is these days) couldn’t get its story straight suggests Rudy might have been pursuing a damage-control strategy last week. After all, the news about his Senate candidacy broke just two hours after The New York Times reported that Rudy had decided not to run for governor next year.

It had been apparent for months that a gubernatorial candidacy wouldn’t be in Rudy’s future—not with Democrats ready to replace the supremely vulnerable David Paterson with the practically invincible Andrew Cuomo. Nonetheless, Rudy had kept the chatter alive, in part to keep his options open in case Paterson’s standing somehow improved, and in part because the gubernatorial guessing game did wonders for his own visibility.

Republican leaders (some of them, at least) were willing to play along, probably because it was easier to hope that Rudy was actually serious about running than to face the reality that, without him, they faced a Faso-esque debacle against Cuomo.

The Times’ report put an end to all of this mutual pretending—for a few hours. But the Daily News‘ bombshell later the same afternoon re-started it instantly. The Rudy-centric guessing game was back on (and, as an added bonus, Rudy’s old nemesis, The Times, was made to look like it had missed out on a big scoop). The only part that didn’t make sense was the original claim that he’d announce candidacy within 48 hours – an assertion that was quickly pulled back.

So here we are, five days later, and everyone is still trying to figure out what Rudy wants to do in 2010—except now, the focus is on the Senate race, not the governorship. This is exactly how he likes it, of course. He can maintain this holding pattern for weeks, maybe even months, as long as enough of us play along.

But the longer he holds out, the more it seems like we’re all being had—again.

This is the same Rudy, don’t forget, who spent all of 1999 and the early part of 2000 gearing up for what was supposed to the Race of the Century against Hillary Rodham Clinton. He mocked her carpet-bagger status and held a steady lead in the polls—until April 2000, when he suddenly fell behind (by eight points). Weeks later, he was out of the race.

Yes, he had prostate cancer, but his explanation—that his illness had changed his perspective on life and softened his edge—seems preposterous in hindsight. The sneering, contemptuous Rudy who demeaned Barack Obama at the 2008 G.O.P. convention sure didn’t seem like a changed man.

His interest in next year’s governor’s race, as noted, never went beyond the shameless-flirt stage—sort of like back in 2005, when he let pundits have fun with the silly idea that he would challenge Clinton for the Senate in 2006.

Who knows? Maybe Rudy really has decided to run for the Senate. And maybe an announcement really is imminent. But if that’s true, it would be news to me – and to everyone else.

  Rudy Giuliani, Serial Rumor Monger